Wednesday, January 31, 2024

January 2024

January 2: First Day Back to Homeschooling Blues

We are so far behind that I started my elementary aged kids back at homeschooling today instead of waiting till after Epiphany. (Although, I realize with discouragement that starting back three days early won’t help our being a month behind already.)

Even though this was a soft start covering only (1) CCE memory work, (2) math, and (3) catechism--end-of-semester tests, which they are apparently FAILING despite our doing one-on-one catechism lessons four days weekly all semester--it took us all the livelong day and we are still not finished. That is three measly subjects out of nine normal ones. 

I got up at 6:00 a.m. I devoted all my time to them. I didn’t take time for myself to so much as brush my teeth or hair until noon. 

Today I still didn’t manage my resolution to exercise daily (or ever!) come hell or high water. Eighteen years and my health remains utterly the last priority. Today I was not managing the middle schooler or high schoolers whose school has not yet resumed. I did not bake the family's bread, which I am a week late doing. Still haven’t planned meals for this week or placed a grocery order: how many nights can we eat “leftovers plus frozen pizza”? It's 4:15 p.m. with no groceries or plans, so I guess we're going to find out!

In the face of my boys being flibberty gibbets and rascals, to put it generously, I raised my voice, I took away privileges. 

I’ve been homeschooling for twelve years, so I am not ignorant or naive. My three elementary boys still need me to be 100% involved in each of their subjects . . . Which means for math alone that I’m agonizingly walking through about 75 questions daily. Very few of their subjects can be grouped together. So that is nine subjects times three boys = my needing to teach 27 subjects individually each day . . . While also managing the older three (who need constant supervision and intervention to stay on task), cooking all the meals, doing all the cleaning and laundry, doing massive amounts of home and schedule administration, all of Thomas’s medical stuff, and more. 

What left is there to simplify?

  • CCE memory work daily and alternating week presentations
  • Math 
  • Phonics or spelling 
  • Grammar 
  • History 
  • Handwriting 
  • Vocabulary 
  • Catechism 
  • Science

That's it. I'm not even doing the bare minimum of a classical education, which would by definition include at the Elementary level: Latin (and probably Greek, too), Literature, and Writing (like, essays), Geography, Poetry, Art, and Music. I had to give up those dreams years ago.

I can't even do the bare minimum.

I've been teaching from 8:00 to 4:30 and I still have two more subjects to teach a kid. Then figuring out what to make for dinner out of nothing.

January 3: Boxed Mac and Cheese

This is a confidential space where nobody has to confess that they sometimes feed their kids BOXED MACARONI AND CHEESE. 

Now that we have that out of the way: I will share that I JUST discovered that one can buy the powdered cheese mix to make mac and cheese onself! For a large family, this is much cheaper than buying numerous of those ridiculously small boxes of mac & cheese. 

Also, our Thomas cannot tolerate normal pasta, so I buy Good Wheat pasta (very high fiber and higher protein). Now I can combine Good Wheat pasta with the powdered cheese mix for the flavor of good ol' boxed mac and cheese that is a healthier version. (Last night, he filled his bowl three times!)

Yes, I know how to make homemade macaroni and cheese from a roux and so forth, but it's great to have a convenient option, too.

The Hoosier Hill Farm mix seems pretty decent. The ingredient list is only six ingredients that seem good and normal, plus two artificial colors. (Hoosier Hill Farm makes a version without any artificial colors as well.) I compared ingredient lists of Annie's boxed mac and cheese to Hoosier Hill Farm and it is virtually identical.

I found one more brand of cheese mix on Amazon that seems to have a very long ingredient list, probably full of worse foods. I will link in comments. The macros are also less healthy than the Hoosier Hill Farm.

For families who serve boxed mac and cheese, I'd say that you can thank me later for this tip, but we all want to remain anonymous . . . .

January 4: Wisdom Teeth

Our eldest had his wisdom teeth extracted and all went beautifully well.

January 4: The Ronald McDonald House

This afternoon, Mary and I had the most lovely experience volunteering at The Ronald McDonald House. (Not that I will post any pictures of my beautiful teen against her wishes!) 

When Thomas got sick, we were blessed to live seven miles away from a Level 1 Trauma Hospital and a national neuroblastoma expert, but many families going through prolonged medical crises are not so fortunate. 

We hope to put in more volunteer time there again. 

January 5: Pulling Myself Up by my Bootstraps

Thanks to my sweet friends for encouraging me after my public tantrum about how hard homeschooling is.

It is really hard. None of us homeschooling parents chooses it because it is the easier way.

Because I've been at this for 15 years, I've had to pull myself up by my bootstraps multiple times yearly the entire time, and this is no different. I made myself a new schedule that is very close to our rhythm of life anyway, but I hope will keep me on track.

Of course, we're taking this so-called schedule into the coming week when (1) my husband will be gone for five days, (2) my eldest and second driver will be out of commission recovering from wisdom teeth removal, and (3) it is Thomas's annual cancer scans, so I can just write my massive "scanxiety" insomnia into the plan right now. This hoped-for school plan will be "blown out of the water" this coming week, but at least when I get lost, I have a map to try to get back to my goal.

Daily school laid out for our 7th grader

Daily school laid out for our 7th grader

January 6: Epiphany

Happy Feast of the Epiphany!

Years ago, I wanted to place emphasis on this holy feast day, which is more celebrated in (Catholic) Europe than in (Protestant) America. Epiphany has been formally celebrated since the end of the second century, even before the formal celebration of Jesus' birth. So, in our family, on Christmas the children open gifts from other family members (grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc.) and on Christmas they open their gifts from us, their parents. It's very fun!

Tonight we will attend Mass and a festive potluck party with fellow Catholics. Also, on the list over the Epiphany octave is to bless our house.

January 7: St. Valentine's Day

Heads' up to my Catholic mom friends! This February 14th offers a (painful) catechism lesson for our children! Ash Wednesday, on which we abstain from meat and fast under pain of mortal sin, trumps the fun celebration of St. Valentine's Day. This will give me a chance to remind our own kids about the ranking of feast days and that St. Valentine's Day is celebrated in a secular way with chocolate and flowers, but does not rank any higher than any particular saint's day (which is every day), whereas you only get one Ash Wednesday each year . . . Sorry, kiddos! You can save your candies for another day!

January 8: Epiphany Home Blessing 2024

Started outdoors in the quite chilly temps

January 8: Activity Dice

I am incorporating Activity Dice into our homeschool morning and hope I stick with it. We paused deskwork for only 15 minutes but what a power punch: the boys had the most fun, were laughing wildly, and we all got our hearts pumping.  Even I participated, which led to the hilarity. (You are decidedly not going to see pictures of me waddling like a duck.) Afterward, the boys were willing to go back to deskwork. Link to Activity Dice in comments.

January 8: Violin Recital

Congratulations to Mary for performing J.B. Accolay's violin Concerto No. 1 at a recital with Del Mondo Music Academy! Mr. Vasily is a wonderful teacher. (If I had permission to post the video of her performance, you know this mama would . . . .)

January 8: Tilly

She really tries to be elegant, bless her heart.

January 9: Deluge

Our dry creek was an actual, fast-flowing creek.

January 9: Table Topics

We are three weeks into using Table Topics at dinner, and we are all enjoying it. 

Our family dinner behavior needed improvement. Without a plan, and with two very tired parents (not) guiding things, conversation was led by kids, loud, often devolved to picking or fighting. 

Now the kids are all very interested in grabbing the questions at the start of the meal. We are learning interesting things about each other! This also gives us a reason and framework to tell children to be silent, listen to the speaker, rotate answers in a certain order. 

There is seemingly no end to the variety of selections published by TableTopics or other brands, so I imagine we will have material to work with for a long time. 

TableTopics Family - 135 Conversation Starter Cards for Game Night, Mealtime, Building Parent-child Relationships, and Bonding Together with Table Topics 

January 10: Scanxiety


Thomas is having his 3-year cancer scans tomorrow (Thursday). Chris and I would appreciate prayers for (1) the scans to be clean and (2) peace for our family. Chris is out "slaying dragons" and has unavoidable travel all week (to three different states!), so he can't attend the scans as he'd like. And that means I'm home managing alone and experiencing "scanxiety" through the roof.

Today (Wednesday), I took Thomas and his brother to Nuke Med at the main hospital to receive his SSKI (medicine to protect his thyroid) and his MIBG injection (radioactive medicine that "sticks" to neuroblastoma cancer cells). Ever a homeschooling mama, I tasked Joseph (age 10) with navigating us through the maze of the hospital by following signs alone, all the way to our appointment, and all the way back out, onto the neighborhood streets, into the right parking garage, and to our car. He did great!

The boys and I brought our books, which caused every single staff person who entered the room to comment and share appreciation that we weren't staring at screens, which was so nice (especially since I do stare at screens too much). On our way out, a nurse recognized my boys, let her elevator leave without her, just so that she could rave on and on about how last time she saw my boys, they were also reading books, and here they were again reading books, and she was so glad for them. 

In order to alleviate my PTSD, pit in my stomach, and racing heart this afternoon, I've whiled away the hours NOT EVEN ATTEMPTING HOMESCHOOL, but instead baking four loaves of bread and fervently cleaning the house. 

Given that tonight I'm scheduled to wake up by alarms twice in the middle of the night to stop Thomas's tube feeding, switch to clears, and then stop the clears before he is NPO, and given that I am scheduled to have Grade A Insomnia in between alarms, I plan to binge read "Gone With the Wind" and binge watch fluff television to pass the time.

As for Thomas, he announced to me cheerfully, "Tomorrow is going to be one of the best days of the year!" I asked him why and he referenced going under general anesthesia: "Because I get to take a four-hour nap! And then at bedtime, I won't be tired, so I will get to stay up super late and read!" So, our little fella isn't nervous or stressed!

January 11: No Evidence of Cancer!

Thomas's 3-year cancer scans were clear! He has no evidence of disease! Praise God for this blessing.

Now Thomas will see Oncology Survivorship only once a year (perpetually . . . and then as an adult will see an oncologist who specializes in children who survived cancer). Thomas sees 11 specialists for 27 routine appointments per year (plus Mom stopping by the pharmacy for him 2-3 times monthly) . . . but we have scratched the Solid Tumor Team OFF his list of physicians!

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement.

January 13: Goals

This is how I’m feeling these days. 
(Substitute “maintain a career” with “teach six grades in a rigirous homeschool.”)

January 13: Pet-Sitting Sweet Bailey

January 14: Nate Bargatze Tour

Merry Christmas to us! We went to the Beef ‘N Bottle Steakhouse and then to see Nate Bargatze on tour!

January 16: Happy 11th birthday, Joseph!

This boy is utterly so full of ENERGY AT ALL TIMES. Someday that will serve him well! He loves building and launching rockets, building Legos and filming stop-action movies, doing science experiments with chemicals, and running around outdoors every afternoon. He reads voraciously two to three fat novels weekly: classic literature, boyish adventures, fantastic stuff. I have to be alert to go back into his bedroom to force "lights out!" and "no more reading!" or he'll stay up till midnight frequently, reading his little heart out.

January 18: Know Your Place, Stay in your Place

Medical Mamas will understand completely and other mamas will get a glimpse behind the curtain . . . 

My feeling dejected about all I am UNable to accomplish is not a new theme (just ask my long suffering husband, although he won't confirm because he is more polite than me). This week, as I'm trying to discern if I can take on an additional duty, I calculated how many medical visits I attend annually. Spoiler alert (as they say): It is about 100 visits annually NOT counting any sick or injury events.

Given that I homeschool (which isn't going to change) and schooling basically doesn't happen when I'm absent from the house, disrupting the school two to three times weekly helps explain my frustration. 

I had started to think that "Thomas's medical care is sort of equivalent to just a woman running a large family, like all my friends, and they're getting by!"--and then I  realized that a little math was in order.

"Katherine, get yourself a CLUE."

Thomas's medical appointments alone, which include having to drive to Levine's to do stand-alone labs with regularity, is 37 annually.

My driving to the specialty pharmacy for Thomas's specialty medications (requiring a parking garage, no drive-through option) 30 minutes each way three times monthly means 36 trips. (The fee to have them mail me the prescriptions would be significant.) [EDIT: I will clarify that we interface with three pharmacies, and two mail for free, but the third one is the one I have to visit so often. In the world of medical complexity, different pharmacies manage different things.]

Then there are five other kids with a well-visit each per year, one in braces, and two being monitored for braces, plus my own physicals and labs (separate visits) and a couple of specialists. I take all six kids to the dentist simultaneously (twice per year) and then I go on a separate trip.

I'm counting 99 medical visits per year WITHOUT anyone getting sick or injured and without considering Thomas's fever protocol that means I take him to the ER for any significant fever at all. Some medical symptoms mean his doctor has me take him in for labs in order to determine if he needs to be seen. This also doesn't count all the tracking of food and meds for Thomas, charts and graphs, regular questions by text and email to his doctors, and the so many additional phone calls I receive from his medical team. For example, Thomas has an Oncology Survivorship appointment this coming Friday, so I spent from 9:00 p.m. to midnight preparing paperwork to take to that appointment.

Right now, we're battling Thomas's recurrent cellulitis, which is a deceptively nonchalant skin infection that can become sepsis and death quickly (for any kid, not just an immunocompromised one). This has already required texting his doctor photos every day, going to the pharmacy, and taking Thomas in to get the infection cultured. Considering Thomas's last go-round involved three infections over six weeks and finally needing to be inpatient for a couple of days at Levine's for IV antibiotics and drainage under general anesthesia, I am just preparing my heart for this infection NOT to be simple.

So, maybe it's time I face a true COMMITMENT to year-round homeschooling to accommodate our slower accomplishments, right? Maybe it's time that I have a "come to Jesus" conversation in which I finally let God put me in my place: this is where he has me now, and what I can accomplish is all I can accomplish, whether I like it or not. (Clue: my petulant answer is "NOT.")

As Fr. Shawn--recently beloved and CANCELLED priest--says: "Know your place, stay in your place."

Obviously, prayers for my acceptance of God's will are appreciated.

January 19: Survivorship Appointment

Today marks the three-year anniversary of Thomas being discharged from two months in PICU to the Oncology floor. One of the Attending Surgeons recently told some fellow ER doctors in front of me that Thomas is as sick as a kid has ever been at Levine's Children's Hospital and survived. 

I didn't know that. Sobering.

Today Thomas is in a much better station in life: he attended his annual Survivorship Appointment at Oncology! (Chris was gone on business travel, so he attended via FaceTime.)

The Survivorship Program is wonderful. We were seen one at a time by a phlebotomist, a nurse, a dietician, a social worker, an education specialist, a child life specialist (to make sure Thomas understands all about his past medical history in an age-appropriate way), and finally by the doctor who runs the program. Afterward, Thomas's oncologist and Miss Hailey, his beloved child life specialist stopped by for a social visit.

Everything went well! The most exciting news for Thomas is that he has grown to four feet tall! He's been waiting for that for a long time.

Some little updates:

We no longer have to monitor Thomas's heart muscle health with echocardiograms. After studying pediatric cancer patients for years, the national protocol has changed because elevated occurrence of heart muscle damage is not seen in children who received the particular dose of doxorubicin that Thomas received (only in children who received twice as much).

Doxorubicin can cause damage to the arteries, so that monitoring normally begins at age 10. However, Oncology is going to consult with GI because they may start monitoring Thomas earlier than 10 years old based on all his GI involvement and absorption issues.

Thomas will continue to be monitored annually into his 20s before he switches to Adult Survivorship.

January 22: Year of Wonder

I’m enjoying so far using Year of Wonder with the kids. My goal is twice a week at lunchtime to read aloud that day’s description of classical music and then play the piece via my phone. (Note that I would not hand off the book to a child to read aloud because some of the plot descriptions of operas, for example, are a little spicy.) So far, we are having fruitful conversations describing what we hear and sharing what we like or dislike. It is less than a ten-minute investment.

January 22: Homemade Pizza Crust

This weekend, little David was my baking assistant. I baked enough cookies to last for three dessert nights (froze two portions worth) and baked homemade pizza crust and froze them for use this coming Friday.

January 23: Blood Donation Heroes

Not a week goes by that I don't look at Thomas playing happily and think of the 93 strangers who donated blood products to save his life.

January 24: Madama Butterfly

Our girls got to enjoy seeing Opera Carolina’s Madame Butterfly last night. As disappointed as I was to be unable to attend due to this irritating cough, I was so grateful that Chris could take them in my stead. Plus he brought me home macarons from the Ritz!

January 25: Cicadas

Over 1 Trillion Cicadas Awakening In 2024’s Rare Brood Alignment – Not Seen Since 1800s

I remember discovering cicadas when we moved to Charlotte. We moved into our home in early summer 2008 and later that summer were taking an evening walk. The sound was deafening! I had no idea what the sound was. I  then wondered if cicadas should have been part of the disclosures in the home sale. Talk about an ignorant California girl!

January 25: BROOM FOUND 

For three days, my broom and dustpan were missing. Can you envision how icky my entire wooden-floor downstairs and, in particular, my kitchen gets over 3 days with 8 people and 2 dogs living in it 24/7? I searched everywhere that the broom shouldn't even be: every bedroom, every bathroom, the garage, outdoors: nothing! I was starting to as myself, when does a housewife buy a new broom and dustpan? 

This morning: the broom and dustpan appeared in my pantry as if nothing awry had ever occurred. Maybe the Broom Fairy returned the set to me. All I know is that I stopped homeschooling immediately in order to sweep the downstairs and felt so much satisfaction dumping the piles of dirt and dog hair into the garbage can!

January 29: Healthier French Toast


I figured out how to make homemade French toast sticks that Thomas loves and that he tolerates well. 

He loves the ones in the frozen department at the grocery, but they make him violently ill. 

These ones: I swapped the ratio, so used two eggs plus just a splash of milk to coat the crisped toast. Then while cooking, I sprinkled them with cinnamon sugar (a little goes a long way). Yay!

January 29: Family Dance

We had a fun time Saturday night at the St. Ann Family Dance. The crowd was petite because of the torrential rain but the Heberts are so skilled at teaching dances and working a crowd, that we all still had a great time. Imagine how enjoyable it will be in good weather with a big crowd! Hope you’ll join us next time!

January 29: Wasps

This is our collection of bug poisons in the garage: note that the wasps have built their nest on the bottle of wasp poison. Touché.

January 28: A li’l tip concerning pharmacies

If your doctor sends in a prescription and you receive an alert from the pharmacy that the medication is temporarily “out of stock,”—an update repeated, for example, for five days—do please know that if the pharmacy has anything less than the full amount prescribed, it will declare it “out of stock.” Go ask a pharmacist in person and you might just hear, “oh, yes, we have five days’ worth in stock, just not ten days’. Did you want me to fill half the order for now?” YES, PLEASE, I WOULD.

January 28: Happy 18th anniversary to us!

We went to Indian food and a movie and just chit chatted—and not even solely about the children! 

While growing up, I didn't know many marriages that survived the culture of death that obliterated my parents' generation like a nuclear bomb. Now I look around at my age-peers and see a bunch of us trying so hard to rebuild a culture--one family at a time--after apocalyptic destruction of the foundation of society (marriage).

So, Chris and I praise God for "boring times." We praise God for hauling ourselves to church on Sundays, having kids, and saying our family prayers. Happy anniversary and may God please grant us many more.

January 29: Driver's Ed

Mary (15) finally got to complete her behind-the-wheel training! She should have her learner's permit in about two to three weeks.

January 30: Morning Visitor

David (6) has let me know what toy he’d like to buy with his Christmas Amazon gift card. I saw this catalogue clipping slide under my bathroom door while I was getting ready and thought everyone was still sound asleep.

January 30: Such healthy free play in action!

My three boys plus boys from two neighboring families built these two “city islands” connected by a bridge. The “buildings” are a church, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, etc.  the building with a pine needle sprig is the car wash. Day Two and improvements to the engineering continue . . .

January 30: Daily dose of puppy love

January 31: Handwriting Aids

I want to share two resources that have been very helpful in improving one of our children's handwriting. The first photo is from a few months ago and already showed a lot of improvement from how atrotious this child's natural handwriting is. The latter photo is how well the kiddo can write with effort (and time) today. Four months ago, we began using Clever Eli grooved handwriting practice and I also purchased a handwriting paper with yellow on it. I have taught six kids handwriting, and only two have had this hard of a time of it: I wish I had found these resources for the earlier kid who needed help. Resources in comments.

January 30: Bath Day

She does not like bath day, but at least she gets the Big Fluffy Blanket treatment afterward.

January 30: Gratitude for a Day in the Life of Taking Care of Sweet Thomas  

These are Thomas's daily meds, divided up at five different times throughout the day. He also takes an additional two oral meds every time he eats by mouth. He also receives tube feeding overnight using a highly specialized formula ($10,000/month) with another medication so that he can absorb the nutrition ($18,000/month)--and we are astonishingly grateful for health insurance that covers it 100%. We are also so grateful for pharmaceutical companies that choose to make three prescriptions that Thomas takes that are used by only a minute percentage of the population--yet the company makes them anyway.

January 30: Irregardless

This week I watched the new Irregardless comedy stand-up special with Kevin James and want to recommend it.

In short: I was shrieking with laughter so loudly, tears pouring down my face, that my teens came upstairs to check whether I was okay.

It is so hard to find clean humor these days, but this comedy special is clean without the dulling overtones of "I'm purposefully clean because I'm a Christian." Now, it does happen to be that Kevin James is a devout Catholic: his humor is so fantastic while simultaneously being family-friendly.

Highly, highly recommend. Chris and I have both watched it this week--him on his business trip, me at home--and I plan to have the kids 12+ watch it with us this Friday night.

January 31: Beautiful Baking

Margaret (12) baked us this cake today: both delicious and beautiful!